Seventeen-year-old Isabella Swan's parents divorced when she was a toddler, and her annual visits to her father, the chief of police in rainy Forks, Washington, have always been more of a torture than a treat. So why does Bella volunteer to relocate to Forks permanently, leaving her mother and stepfather behind in sunny Arizona? The answer reveals much about Bella's personality; she tends to consider others' needs before her own, a trait that soon may bring her love but also endanger her very life.
Life in Forks is a revelation to Bella. Despite the rain and the overly green landscape, she soon discovers that she enjoys living with her easygoing, introverted father. At school, Bella --- who has never had a boyfriend before --- becomes many boys' object of attraction. But Bella, who's more embarrassed than flattered by this new attention, has eyes for only one boy. Edward Cullen, the aloof, dazzlingly handsome youngest son of the mysterious, reclusive Cullen family, alternates between interest in Bella and what appears to be fury at her.
As circumstances --- and her own attraction --- bring Edward and Bella together, Bella begins to ask questions about Edward and his astonishingly attractive, wealthy and accomplished family. Her growing suspicions are soon proved true --- the Cullens are actually vampires. These are not the kin of Count Dracula, though. The Cullens are a remarkably sophisticated coven of vampires, who have managed to control their desires to the extent that they prey on large animals (grizzly bears and mountain lions) rather than on humans. Carlisle, the patriarch of the "family," has even controlled his bloodlust to pursue a successful career as a surgeon.
Finally, Bella discovers the reasons for Edward's apparent rage --- torn between the desire to love her and the desire to devour her, he fears that his vampire nature might grow too strong for him to control. Soon, though, the two are inextricably bound up in a love affair from which neither of them might escape undamaged. Considering that one of the limitations of their relationship is that they are unable to have sex, TWILIGHT is a remarkably sensuous novel. Bella's descriptions of her desire and Edward's attempts to control his own appetites are charged with erotic energy.
Although TWILIGHT seems inspired by other vampire novels such as Robin McKinley's SUNSHINE, Stephenie Meyer certainly leaves her own imprint on the genre. Her vampires are mysterious and alluring, with powers that alternately confirm and contradict traditional vampire lore. Bella's romantic dilemmas, klutziness, and loving relationships with her parents give her character depth and keep the narrative from becoming too dark. Although the novel is long, its pacing is steady and compelling until the end, when the chase scene rockets out of control. Nevertheless, TWILIGHT is a gripping blend of romance and horror that will entice fans of both genres.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 5, 2005